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Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s “Black Rainbow”

In the same trailer, the artist says, “Once the story is written, 70% of the work is done. The remaining 30% is the joy of drawing.” This is said over images of Black Blizzard – which is a bit ironic, since the story of Black Blizzard is about 80% someone else’s. Granted, the originality of Black Blizzard lies with its visuals, and it is precisely their newness that is celebrated in earlier versions of the comic’s making and impact. That aspect of the work is not being disputed here. The issue is the comic’s underlying story.

Tatsumi Yoshihiro, A Drifting Life (2009), p. 533, detail showing “Hiroshi” reading Shimada’s story.

In A Drifting Life and elsewhere, Tatsumi says the following about his sources. From Alexandre Dumas and The Count of Monte Cristo, he got the idea of constructing a story around a prison escape. From an unidentified story by detective writer Shimada Kazuo, came the motif of the handcuffed escapees. In A Drifting Life, Tatsumi depicts himself reading a magazine in the apartment he shares with Saitō and Matsumoto one late summer evening in 1956. “That night, Hiroshi found an interesting story in a second-rate entertainment magazine. It was by Shimada Kazuo, the immensely popular author behind the TV show Crime Reporter. The story followed two convicts, handcuffed to each other, who escape while being escorted by the police.” In his prose autobiography, Gekiga Living (2010), the episode begins to sound like something more than simple influence: “This is it! This idea is great. This is what it’ll be for my next full-length work. An innocent young man and a ruffian man handcuffed together . . . The images started coming one after another.” However, Tatsumi has clearly wanted to keep the main creative credit for himself, for in every telling he points out that Black Blizzard predates The Defiant Ones by two years, just so you know who was first with the motif. As it turns out, he has little right to make this claim.

The only thing really relevant here is Shimada’s story. The Count of Monte Cristo might have turned Tatsumi on to escape adventures in general, but any influence from Dumas is completely superseded by that from Shimada’s “Black Rainbow.” Not only did he get the “motif” of the handcuffed escapees from Shimada, but pretty much everything else – the plot, the characterization, most of the interpersonal dynamics, the train wreck, the slog in inclement weather, the confessional conversation in the shack, the episode in the hospital with the anesthetic, the all-too-coincidental father-daughter ending, even some specific lines of dialogue. Tatsumi did make some notable changes, but otherwise the dependence on Shimada’s story is so complete that no other word will do: Black Blizzard is a more or less faithful adaptation. What this means most immediately is that the existing picture of the manga’s genesis, especially in its recent melodramatic versions, simply has to go. During that dark and stormy twenty days in the fall of 1956, the godfather of gekiga did not remake the world of manga ex nihilo, nor simply with the help of a couple of “influences.” The evidence suggests very clearly that Tatsumi had at his side a copy of “Black Rainbow,” which he was using more or less as a script, probably sitting on the floor beside him, in his lap, or on a corner of his desk, flipped open and referenced again and again as he sketched out the story in pencils. Considering the story was already thought out for him, that it took just three weeks to complete the book seems a little less miraculous.

The Jewel, special issue on Detective Fiction (Bessatsu hōseki) (March 1953), cover.

Shimada’s “Black Rainbow” was initially published in the popular fiction monthly King in July 1950, then reprinted in a supplemental edition of The Jewel in March 1953. It was included slightly revised in a collection of Shimada’s stories titled Buchō keiji (Chief Detective) in 1959, which was reissued in various editions I believe until 1985. As far as I know, the King and The Jewel versions of the story were the only ones available in 1956. There are various reasons to believe that the latter was the version Tatsumi read. The Jewel had a much higher print run, and for anyone interested in mystery writing at the time, it would have been the first magazine to go to. The illustrations accompanying The Jewel edition are also much closer to the mood and graphic style of Black Blizzard, as I explain below.

That Tatsumi was reading The Jewel is no big surprise. Like I said, the magazine was early postwar Japan’s most influential and longest-running magazine of mystery fiction, founded in 1946 during the Occupation era’s revival of prewar modes of Westernized entertainment and folding eighteen years and some four hundred issues later in 1964. Its prominence and durability made many careers. Many of Japan’s top detective, thriller, and hardboiled writers, like Takagi Akimitsu, Yamada Fūtarō, Ayukawa Tetsuya, and Ōyabu Haruhiko, debuted and matured in the magazine, as did science fiction writer Tsutsui Yasutaka. Some of Yokomizo Seishi’s most popular stories appeared in the magazine. So did Matsumoto Seichō’s Zero Focus (1958-60). Edogawa Ranpo contributed consistently, and in August 1958, when the magazine was in financial trouble and on the verge of folding, he took up its editorship and even personally subsidized part of its publication costs.

Many of the stories in The Jewel were made into movies, oftentimes very soon after publication. Both directly and via these movies, the magazine’s impact on kashihon manga was significant, though to say how much so would require more research. As a starting point, Tsuge Yoshiharu has professed becoming an avid reader of the magazine beginning in mid or late 1956, and quite suddenly so when he turned from period fiction to detective and mystery. He remembers reading not only new Japanese stories there, but also reprints of Edogawa and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō in the magazine’s supplemental editions, as well as translations of G. K. Chesterton and L. J. Beeston. Though not sure, Tsuge says he thinks he probably started reading The Jewel because of Tatsumi’s mystery work, which if accurate time-wise would presumably mean books like Witness without a Voice and his early Shadow stories. However, Tatsumi claims not to have been a regular reader of the magazine, and said he had no recollection where he first read “Black Rainbow” even after I told him the original publication venue. Tsuge bought old copies at used bookstores, and considering that the issue with Shimada’s story was three years old perhaps Tatsumi did the same. Maybe it arrived via his brother Sakurai, the bookworm and voice of conscience in A Drifting Life constantly advising Tatsumi on what to read and how to steer his work. Given the timing, it is also possible that one of his former roommates, Saitō or Matsumoto, had passed it along. This latter route is suggested by A Drifting Life, which shows him reading Shimada’s story in their Saikudani apartment. In the drawing, the magazine is titled generically Fiction World (Shōsetsu Sekai), which now we know is inaccurate. Anyway, it’s probably not wise to take this scene at face value, considering Tatsumi’s partial forgetfulness concerning Black Blizzard. I’ll have to comb Saitō and Matsumoto’s works from this period for evidence of The Jewel.


6 Responses to Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s “Black Rainbow”

  1. Patrick Markfort says:

    Wow. This is an extraordinary work of comics scholarship.

  2. Tom Gill says:

    Yes indeed, Ryan, this is a fine piece of scholarship. I also noticed Tatsumi’s oddly faulty memory in my piece on him at the Hooded Utilitarian, entitled Fetuses in the Sewer, where I find he appears to have overlooked some debts to Yoshiharu Tsuge. Obviously you have done a much, much more thorough job on Black Blizzard, and destroyed any claim it might have for originality of story.

    I suppose the obvious question is why Tatsumi left so many obvious clues as to his influences, and then attempted to deny them. Why write such a very similar story, even using the same name as in Shimada’s story for one of the protagonists, if you are not planning on acknowledging the debt? It would appear to be a casual, cynical and not very clever approach. We know plenty of other manga artists at this period borrowed freely from each other and from others, but why does he have to be so coy about it?

    You say you have met Tatsumi. Did you get some hint as what makes the man tick?

  3. ryanholmberg says:

    Since I’m not including the footnotes in the TCJ version of these essays, I just want to credit here a book I found useful in thinking about Shimada Kazuo and “repatriation.” My understanding of “red repatriates” comes largely from: Lori Watt, “When empire comes home : repatriation and reintegration in postwar Japan” (Harvard, 2009)

  4. Mike Hunter says:

    Indeed an amazing piece of detective work! And the plethora of information regarding Japanese pop culture and crime fiction is a delight as well…

    About “kamishibai, a defunct form of oral storytelling using picture cards,” two threads from the old TCJ message board:

    “Kamishibai: Pictorial Storytelling in old Japan”:
    “…In many cases, obscure kamishibai practitioners took the drawing and narrative skills they acquired and later applied them with great success as Manga cartoonists…Mizuki Shigeru, author of the enormously popular GeGeGe no Kitaro series about goblins from a graveyard, and Shirato Sampei, author of the Kamui the Ninja series, both got their start as kamishibai artists…”

    In “Cartoons, Etc. from WW II-era Japanese Magazine,” a photojournalistic article follows a kamishibai practitioner at work:

  5. Mike Hunter says:

    Darn, I just saw a lot of the links posted in ““Kamishibai: Pictorial Storytelling in old Japan” are now defunct; sorry!

  6. ryanholmberg says:

    In response to Tom. As I said in the essay, Tatsumi told me that he did not remember the original story. I have no reason not to believe him. At what point he forgot, I don’t know. But I trust that now, and in A Drifting Life, he is not trying to hide anything. I don’t think one scatters clues if the ultimate goal is secrecy. I gave him a copy of the original story, but I don’t know if he read it, and if he did, how it might have jogged his memory. My sense is that the fact of adaptation was not so important for him then, nor is it now. That Black Blizzard was an adaptation might be a new finding itself, but like you say the general fact that a kashihon artist was adapting without crediting will surprise no one familiar with that world — though I don’t know off-hand of any uncredited adaptations that are quite as extensive.

    To get at this matter more deeply, one has to address the understanding of authorship, copyright, and adaptation for this period of manga, and more specifically in Osaka kashihon publishing. I might write a follow-up essay on the subject (especially if people are interested), although it’s a tricky topic to research. What I wanted to do here was provide the evidence of adaptation, set the adaptation next to the original, and offer some brief thoughts as to what the contrast tells us about mid-50s kashihon manga on the level of content. As soon as one brings up the issue of copyright, the question arises of how one judges the act of borrowing or copying. I wanted to avoid ethical and legal issues here, because I know even a whiff of such things tends to make objective research sound motivated by other (unattractive) interests. Tatsumi was a little less creative than A Drifting Life suggests — that’s about as far as I would go for now.

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